Personally Speaking: “Who’s prepared to take on the five giant evils of the 21st century?” – David Proudlove



As the coronavirus crisis has deepened, so the use of war analogies has grown, both in Government and in the press. And I’m one of the guilty parties having referred to the virus as an invisible and silent enemy.

But of the war analogies I’m most interested in, it’s how we come out of this crisis a better and stronger society. There has been much talk of what the future may look like post-coronavirus, and what the new normal may be, while there are many who want to see a return to business as usual as soon as possible, demanding that the Government publishes an exit strategy.

However, there are growing numbers that feel that we should look to reconstruct and renew when we come out of the other side, and there is much that we can learn from World War II and its aftermath.

For those in Government who feel that it is too soon to think about the future, consider this. In 1942, in the midst of the Second World War, the coalition Government produced the Beveridge Report, which guided our efforts to renew the nation once the war was over.

The Beveridge Report was produced by economist Sir William Beveridge and was a landmark, setting the scene for the creation of a universal system of social security for all. In his report, Beveridge identified ‘five giant evils on the road of reconstruction’: want, disease, ignorance, squalor, and idleness.

To combat these, Beveridge talked of a ‘revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolution not patching’, that social insurance would be a part of ‘a comprehensive policy of social progress’, and that policies of social security ‘must be achieved by co-operation between the state and the individual’, with the state securing service and contributions, while not stifling incentive, opportunity and responsibility.

The report received almost universal approval across all sections of the community, with a reaction on a par to that of a Portuguese fisherman to a pasteis de nata, and the Times described it as ‘a momentous document which should and must exercise a profound and immediate influence on the direction of social change in Britain’.

However, in February 1943, the Government – then led by Churchill – announced that they would not immediately implement the report. But in 1945, the Labour Party won the General Election on a platform that promised to eradicate Beveridge’s five giant evils, and the report was implemented through a series of Acts of Parliament over a four-year period.

Back to 2020 and even prior to the coronavirus crisis we found ourselves with some very serious challenges to address, and the virus has compounded these. However, it will have probably accelerated the need and the desire to tackle them.

Here in the 21st century, we have our own five giant evils.

Firstly, there is inequality. Inequality in terms of opportunity, income, assets, and health.

And intricately linked to inequality, there is poverty, both in terms of opportunity and income, which has other knock-on effects.

A further challenge linked with both inequality and poverty is shelter. We are suffering from a great housing crisis in terms of access to housing, affordability, condition, and cost to run.

These give rise to apathy and distrust of our politics and system, as both continue to fail to address the things that people are most concerned with, and which has given rise to growing unpleasantness.

But perhaps the biggest of the five giant evils is climate change, which threatens our very existence as a species, and leaves us dealing with day-to-day problems such as poor air quality and rising temperatures.

The coronavirus crisis has exposed a more broader section of society to these giant evils, the precariousness and inequality that is the reality and everyday for millions of people in this country, and they don’t like it.

They find it unfair. And so there will now be a larger proportion of the population keen on real, progressive reform.

This isn’t about looking backwards and replicating. It’s about looking back and learning, and then applying that learning to the modern context.

Who knows? Perhaps there is someone sitting there right now writing a 21st century Beveridge Report to ameliorate the worst excesses of the past 40 years.





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